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The SECDEF and the Civilians

This week, Secretary Gates reiterates a point he has made several times.  It is the same one that LTG Peter W. Chiarelli and MAJ Stephen M. Smith were making.  The Chiarelli/Smith piece deserves a close reading -- it is long, but generally excellent.  The SECDEF said:

"America's civilian institutions of diplomacy and development have been chronically undermanned and underfunded for far too long -- relative to what we traditionally spend on the military, and more importantly, relative to the responsibilities and challenges our nation has around the world," Gates said at a dinner organized by the U.S. Global Leadership Campaign, according to prepared remarks of his speech.

Over the next 20 years, Gates predicted, "the most persistent and potentially dangerous threats will come less from emerging ambitious states, than from failing ones that cannot meet the basic needs -- much less the aspirations -- of their people."

This is not a partisan position, left or right; neither is it pro-civilian or anti-military, since the military strongly wants the partnership.

COL Maxwell, whom BlackFive mentioned below, feels that the Country Team is the proper locus of authority for Foreign Internal Defense (FID) missions, of which COIN is a subset.  The Country Team is an interagency group that reports to the ambassador, and involves both military and civilian members.  The American Enterprise Institute has also written on this, and challenged the Country Teams to take the lead in dealing with counterinsurgency (COIN) and stabilization efforts worldwide.  It's an existing solution, but it needs a change in focus from our goverment.

The problem hasn't just been underfunding, though the SECDEF is too polite to mention this in public. This is a market-driven solution, as Professor Glenn Reynolds points out: the reason the military has been taking over intelligence and even diplomacy is that it has often done a better job. The reason it has done a better job -- aside from the military's culture of honor, which has salutory effects on human behavior -- is that the military is the only part of the government that doesn't regard war as a failure to be avoided, but rather as a tool to be used.

The view of diplomacy that has come to dominate the West is one of quasi-law: the point of negotiations is to create regulations and bodies to enforce those regulations. That mindset has an honorable history, and attempts to mitigate the worst tragedies in human history.   It also creates new problems.

For one thing, it should be obvious at this point that the international "enforcement" mechanisms are broken -- or, rather, that they were always illusions. The legalist model tries to treat relations between states as we treat relations between people within a state, but that concept cannot work. There is no similar way to punish a state, as our systems of law punish individuals.

If a man defies the law, we can fine him, or put him in prison: we don't necessarily have to kill him. If a nation defies its treaty obligations, however, fines don't work: the various 'sanctions'-style regimes end up being shrugged off by governments, the costs pushed down onto the people. The experience in dealing with North Korea should show that you can push sanctions to the point of absolute, grinding poverty, and still not force the rogue state to change.

Nor can we put nations in prison. We can only make them into prisons.

As with sanctions, making nations into prisons punishes not the nation but the poor people of that nation. Within those prisons, the leadership remains free to do what it will. 

The traditional "enforcement mechanism" in international relations was war. This is not because our ancestors were barbarians, but because it is the only mechanism that works. Engagement and diplomacy are good things, but they must always be braided together with the threat of war if agreements are not kept. Similarly, failing states and rogue states can be addressed better using civilian means much of the time -- so long as the military means are kept plainly in sight, to ensure that a proper understanding exists between us and the people with whom we negotiate.

Modern civilian agencies do need to become more central, and more important. They do need more funding.

They also need to rethink their relationship with their brothers in uniform. They should see each others as partners in the greater cause of national security, and the interests of human liberty. We should not punish the people of rogue states, but seek to help them. If that means we punish their governments, so be it: but methods that punish only the people are unfit for a nation such as ours. We should always be on the side of human liberty and happiness: always on the side of the people, even when we must be opposed to their government.

It is not that war is desirable: it is not.  It is also not the thing to be avoided.  Diplomacy does not exist to prevent war.  It exists to expand the space for human freedom, and to protect the interests of our civilization.  Diplomacy and war are not opposed, but are the twin tools available to us.